Fire officials: Check heating systems before operating them

Published 4:35 pm Friday, November 11, 2022

Heating season begins at the start of October, and local fire departments are encouraging residents to check their heating systems to make sure they are in safe, working order before turning them on.

Windsor Town Councilman Walter Bernacki is a lieutenant with the Windsor Volunteer Fire Department, and he noted that “a lot of times when this season starts, we’ll get a lot of smell-of-smoke-in-the-house (calls).”

This is often due to dust that — over spring, summer and fall — accumulates on the heating coils, and when they are fired up, this burns the dust off, creating the scent of something burning.

“So what we try to do is get the word out that, hey, whether you’ve got electric or you’ve got a gas furnace or propane, the biggest thing is, if you’re not sure (you’re safe) and want to make sure you’re safe, have a service company come in and just check it,” he said.

He indicated that any reputable, licensed home HVAC company should be able to provide service in this regard, doing things like making sure the heating coils are clean, that there’s nothing blocking the furnace for airflow that would cause the blower motor to overheat, etc.

“As far as on the gas side, whether it’s natural gas or propane, the biggest thing (to do) is check the burner, because if the burner is not working properly or there’s a crack in what they call the heat exchanger, it can be putting out CO, and CO is a poisonous gas that’s colorless and odorless and can kill people,” Bernacki said.

CO stands for carbon monoxide, and Bernacki said that fire departments recommend to people at this time of year that if they have gas appliances and do not have a CO detector, they should get one.

“And if you do have one, make sure it’s functioning properly or the batteries are fresh in it, because you might go to bed, never smell (the CO), and you could die in your sleep if you had a gas build-up in the house,” he said. 

“So we try to make people aware that’s why it’s important to get a gas-fired furnace serviced,” he said, noting that issues with the furnace are not things residents can physically see if they do not know what they are looking for.

“The other thing, too, is just to make sure any heating appliance, whether it’s electrical or gas, make sure there’s not stuff cluttered around it,” he said.

These appliances radiate heat, and that can catch things on fire that are placed near them. 

Bernacki said it is important to not place anything within three feet of heating appliances.

He provided a tip on CO detectors, noting that they usually have an expiration date on the back of them; the detectors are good for only about 10 years before they need to be replaced.

If the detector has not reached its expiration date, “then just make sure (you) do a press to test that the battery’s good, and (you)’re good to go,” he said.

He noted that WVFD has already had a couple smell-of-smoke-in-the-house calls this season, and he emphasized that while the department is happy to come check things out, it does not do the actual service of the heating appliance.

“You can call any reputable, licensed home HVAC company, and they should be able to service most models,” he said.

For those with more questions, they can call the WVFD at 757-242-3191. Other options include, but are not limited to, Franklin Fire and Rescue at 757-562-8581, Hunterdale Volunteer Fire Department at 757-562-7113, Courtland Volunteer Fire Department at 757-653-2317, Drewryville Volunteer Fire Department at 434-658-3320, Boykins Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad at 757-654-6660, Ivor Volunteer Fire Department at 757-859-6400, Newsoms Volunteer Fire Department at 757-654-6891, Capron Volunteer Fire and Rescue at 757-742-2998, Sedley Volunteer Fire Department at 757-562-0995 and Branchville Volunteer Fire Department at 757-654-9420.